The Press Room

Beto O’Rourke Announces Candidacy for 2020 Presidential Election

On Thursday the former Democratic congressional representative from Texas, Beto O’Rourke, released a three and a half minute long video announcing his candidacy for the upcoming 2020 presidential election. He will be the 15th Democrat to toss in their hat for the 2020 presidential bid, and already contains the second largest donor network among Democrats, behind Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Despite losing to Ted Cruz (R-TX) in the 2018 senate election, the charismatic 46-year old out of El Paso managed to raise a record amount ever for a senate campaign, and only lost to the incumbent Cruz by only 3%. Considering that he was looked at as a “longshot” candidate starting out, in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat for statewide office since 1994, that’s pretty impressive run. Another impressive feat from his senate run was that $20 million came from outside of the state, which marks his nationwide popularity among the Democrats.

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Aside from the Kennedy-like charm, another aspect that makes him such an electable figure is his voting record. Although he champions some pretty liberal causes like gun control and universal healthcare, his voting record is 30.1% in line with the president. This paints him more along the lines of a centrist for many, who’s fluidity between party lines may actually secure the presidency for the Democrats. However, others view it as shady, and not supportive enough of the progressive movement. Jokes have gone as far as claiming him to be a Republican in disguise.

With the public spotlight shining down on him for some time now, and with no seat in Washington at the present moment to show for it, we’ll learn how his platform shapes out in these next coming months. Currently, Beto has started off his campaign trail with a three day trip to Iowa, to encouragement of party unity. It awaits to be seen if he’ll see the same nationwide support this time around.

 

White House Assembling ‘Ad-Hoc’ Panel to Reassess US Climate Change Report

Reports circulate of the White House putting together an “ad-hoc” (according to Meriam-Webster, “whenever necessary or needed”) group of federal scientists to reevaluate the US report on climate change. Headed by scientists included in the National Security Council, the primary focus of investigation in the prior US report would be with regards to the role of burning fossil fuels in exacerbating climate change.

This is considered by some to be the President’s most aggressive move in denouncing the general consensus on greenhouse emissions laid by the scientific community. The panel, not subject to the same rules set forth by the Federal Advisory Committee Act, does not have to meet in public or disclose their research on a public database. Essentially, they could wipe away evidence collected from years and years of research, and not need any justification for doing so.

Some of the individuals supposedly heading this group include NSC senior director, and former head of the CO2 Coalition, William Happer, along with a physics professor from New York University named Steve Koonin who wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post November of last year downplaying the effects of climate change.

One caveat that should be brought up about Koonin’s opinion piece is that it’s titled The Climate Won’t Crash the Economy, and his analysis focuses specifically on just that point. Upon further reading, it could be argued that the math used in his argument is heavily dependent on a high degree of uncertain variability, and contains no scientific backing to support the claim. It is well understood that this is a bold claim to pose against a physics teacher, who’s profession involves instructing courses rooted in science, but you could also argue the credentials a physicist has with weighing in on all the complexities of the global economy in the first place.

Right now the US report on climate change calls for a reduction in greenhouse emissions with accordance to the Green New Deal, which was a resolution launched in response to the warning given toward the end of last year at the United Nations Climate Change Summit. Headed by a congregation of the world’s leading climate scientists, they speculate there to only be a 12 year window for us bring down carbon emissions, and limit the global temperature increase to just 1.5°C. Any bit hotter than that, even by half a degree, could lead to irrevocable damage.

The current US climate report states that climate change should be seen as a potential threat to the country, and in 2003 the Pentagon even launched a report on how climate change would compromise defense capabilities.

The Washington Post reports that a senior administrative official states that the purpose of the panel is to get a “mixture of opinions”, but seeing that none of the reassessment would be public record, the question begs to be asked if that’s really the case. Although I’m usually the an ardent proponent of getting in all perspectives possible before making an informed decision, 12 years isn’t enough time for us to sit around arguing well established points. NASA claims there’s already a 97% consensus among the scientific community that we’re contributing to the problem, so then what are we waiting for?

According to one of the authors behind current climate assessment, Katherine Hayhoe, the original report “went through two rounds of federal agency review and one public comment period, where any of these committee members could have commented and reviewed it, if they so desired.”

Climate change is an issue that surpasses politics, the economy, and even pride. It’s preserving the playingfield all of this even goes down on, and the risk/reward is too much in the former for us to be indecisive this late down the stretch.

 

Senators Warner and Thune Introduce the The Employer Participation and Repayment Act to Help Pay Back Student Loans

In a bipartisan effort, Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and John Thune (R-SD) have reintroduced The Employer Participation and Repayment Act to the floor, which would allow employers up to $5,5250 in tax write-offs for helping their employees pay off their student loans. The total student debt is estimated to be around $1.5 trillion, with Forbes reporting the average student having to pay back $37,172 in student loans. The reasoning behind the corporate tax incentive is to allow for more residual spending money for the average consumer, who are often under a financial burden through their student loans.

Although affordable education has been a primary concern for many Democratic officials, Republicans have remained obstinate in their stance that it shouldn’t be in the form of a tax increase. This clever solution helps assuage concerns brought up from both sides, to the mutual benefit of employers and employees alike, which is why support for the bill has split down party lines.

“As the first in my family to graduate from college, I wouldn’t have been able to afford my college tuition without the help of student loans,” says Senator Warner, “Unfortunately as the cost of higher education continues to skyrocket, so has the rate of Americans who turn to student loans to pay or college. Today too many Americans are saddled with tough-to-manage student loan debt, with no end in sight. That’s why I’ve teamed up with Sen. Thune to create an innovative, bipartisan approach to help ease the burden of student loans. By making employer student loan repayments tax-exempt, employers will have a new tool to recruit and retain a talented workforce while also helping working Americans manage their financial future.”

The bill is essentially an add-on to previous legislation, expanding it to allow employers cover prior educational costs of employees, as opposed to just funding their future endeavors.

With a decrease in federal funding leading to an increase in tuition rates, it’s hard to say how this move could impact the cost of college. On one hand, a tax exemption to pay back student loans may lead to less federal funding. On the other hand, it’s not like the federal government had much intention on funding schools in the first place. This is a compromise should hopefully satisfy all those affected.

 

 

The Plight of the Appalachian Pipeline Protesters and the Outdated Federal Legislation Giving Way to Pipeline Struggles Across the U.S.

“You can’t help a bird from flying over your head but you can keep it from building a nest in your hair.” ~Appalachian Proverb

Perched upon the timber of a Tulip Poplar Tree in Virginia’s Jefferson National Forrest, a monopod rests suspended 50 feet in the air. On the ground, bright yellow tape has been stretched around the perimeter, reading “Police Line Do Not Cross”. Seeking refuge inside the of the aerial tent, a protester going by the name of “Nutty” has been up there for almost two months now. Amidst pressure from law enforcement, and an ordinance signed off US Forrest Service deeming it illegal to supply her with provisions and aid, Nutty declared she would stay up in that tree until police extract or starve her out.

On Wednesday May 23rd, after spending the 57 days in defiance (the last three without any food), she finally came down. It had been the longest recorded monopod protest in recorded U.S. history. Did any of this result in any avail? Well others residing in Peters Mountain, and along the Appalachian Trail, have followed her example. They’ve been referred to as “Treesitters”, from the angst-filled youth to university professors, their objective is to barre the proposed path of construction for not one, but two, controversial natural gas pipelines running from West Virginia to North Carolina.

 

Video sent in from Nelson County resident, David Copper. Recorded April 13th, the footage shows police denying protester named Red access to food or water. Red (61) and her daughter Minor (30) ascended up to the trees April 2nd, and both managed to remain up there for well over a month.

The Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines are the names of the two competing pipeline LLC’s, in two respective joint efforts with two major utility companies: Dominion Electric and EQT Midstream Partners. Each of them measure 42’ inches in diameter, pushing Virginia’s regulatory boundaries, as they undergo the largest pipeline construction projects ever in the state.

Now the argument for constructing these two pipelines is that it will equate to job growth. However, observing the effect a previous gas pipeline built in that same region by Dominion a few years ago (the Transco line), and the lack of job production as a result, the residents along the proposed pipeline seem unconvinced. In today’s innovative market, the demand for natural gas just isn’t there like it used to be.

Now the thing is, despite the fact our energy usage has risen dramatically over the decades due to increases in population and standard of living, tremendous leaps in innovation and efficiency standards have made great headway in compensating for our consumption. LEDs that last 25 times longer, while still using 75% less electricity. Increasing affordability for renewables like solar panels, giving residents the ability to be their own local energy supplier, if they so please. Because of all this, our overall energy usage has remained stagnant, or even declined since 2008. And all that is no bueno for utility companies. Especially their shareholders.

And the affect a natural gas pipeline has on a community could be catastrophic to the communities that live along the path of the proposed pipeline. Not just due to the obvious fact that residents in proximity to these pipelines, are living next to something with a 1000 yard blast radius, but the tremendous financial burden it now puts these people in. With these utilities companies authorized by the government on their use of eminent domain, those who aren’t lucky enough to get a meager “easement” settlement for their land, their property values will tank. Not just that, many of the people living in the Appalachians are self-sufficient farmers, that understand the unique karst topography of these hollow limestone mountains. They know how digging up these rooted trees, built on slopes already highly susceptible to landslides, is almost guaranteed to cause runoff to spill into their natural aquifers. A lot of people get their water directly from these wells, which aren’t cheap, so a direct contamination would be detrimental. Regular everyday citizens of the regions have gone to regulatory boards with their own DIY experiments to legitimize their claims, which have gone unanswered.

So why do we still have public utility companies still endorsing private pipeline LLC’s if the people of the region don’t need it? Why are there two separate pipelines being built, through rural southern Virginia? Doesn’t that seem a bit gratuitous? Well, what it is an unabashed manipulation of an out of date subsidy that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (or FERC) that offers a higher rate of return for natural gas, than for any other infrastructural project. It was formulated back in the day, when were trying to get off coal.

This FERC subsidy offers a 50% higher than they would a transmission line or power plant. According to Tom Hadwin,  a former department head for site selection in New York and Michigan, Dominion’s ACP could theoretically guarantee subsidiaries a 15% return on their investment just off the ratepayers alone, without even ever having to use the pipeline. All they have to do is build it.

At the G-20 Summit Trump spoke in great length about the intensified focus on natural gas, citing the pipelines being built in the Appalachians as one of them. However, this isn’t a partisan issue. Many Republicans hate this lack of regulation regarding our own environment. Many Democrats laud the proposal, boasting it as a means the creation of new manufacturing jobs. Virginia’s own Democratic Governor Ralph Northam has passionately supported this project, often ignoring the pleas of Southern Virginians affected by the pipeline. That is why he almost lost in his last primary election to single-party candidate named Tom Perriello. Perriello, a running as a Democrat in a unanimously red voting area, almost had enough people forego party their principles to vote for an ordinary local resident, just so they can finally put an end this pipeline. He almost beat out the incumbent.

As a result “NO PIPELINE” written on every single lawn sign and bumper sticker along route 81, bonfires of easement papers, and of course the “Treesitters” who are out there, fighting on the line and getting arrested as a result. A U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Dillon remarked in frustration, “Those persons should know court proceedings are not a game.” With no disrespect, your honor, they know. They’ve seen this before. They saw this in Bayou Bridge. They saw this in Dakota. They know exactly what this is.

 

 

D.C. Charter Schools Appeal Lawsuit in Federal Court Against The City On Public School Funding

An appeal from a four year long case, between the D.C. Association of Public Charter Schools and city officials from the traditional public school system, was argued in federal court earlier this week. The conglomerate of charter schools argued that the state allocates an unequal amount of funding between public schools and privately operated charter schools, that goes against federal law.

The District implements a pretty uniform formula when it comes to allocating funds between charter and public schools. Although variations may occur regarding the financial needs of the students, those same accommodations aren’t made on the basis of where they attend school. Roughly 90,000 students, nearly half of all of the D.C. public school population, is enrolled in a charter school. Although $3,124 more is allocated to a charter school student than a traditional public school student, the lawsuit argues that traditional public school system also receives aid from other government agencies that don’t offer those same services to privately operated institutions.

To cover expenses such as maintenance and legal counsel (which are provided to traditional schools through the Department of General Services and the Office of the Attorney General of D.C. respectively), the Association of Public Charter Schools argues that the city actually provides less money to charter school students than students of a traditional public school. Their original lawsuit, which was fought from 2008 to 2014, went as far as to say that $2,150 less was provided by the District to fund charter school students.

The attorney fighting on behalf of the charter schools makes the case that this goes against the D.C. School Reform Act of 1995, which required the city to equally distribute funds on the basis of enrollment. Citing the disparity previously mention, he argues that since this is technically a federally passed law, it should supersede local law.

On the other hand, city officials and educational activists state that there exists a fundamental discrepancy among these two educational sectors, regarding their roles and meeting the needs of their students. Supporters of the District’s stance argue that the traditional public school system requires these subsidies because they must be ready to accommodate any student who joins within that school year. That same obligation is not required out of charter school programs. These traditional public schools must also rely on union labor, which tends to be more expensive.

The District does not believe that the charter schools have presented a persuasive enough argument to substantiate the claim, that the formula allocating public school funds adversely effects students enrolled in a charter institution. To counter the lawsuit, the District of Columbia calls upon the governing powers delegated to them from the Home Rule Act of 1973, which grants the city authority in dictating how schools should be funded.

At this point, federal judges are trying to figure out if this all even falls within their jurisdiction. They remain unsure on whether these charter schools even have the right to sue the city in federal court. Although the charter schools haven’t previously had luck in federal court, if the judges do decide to throw out the lawsuit, the litigation processes in D.C. Superior Court could make this an entirely different ball game.